You know how sometimes – maybe all the time – you come home at the end of the day and the last thing you want to do is cook? And you know how, sometimes, if you make that little bit of effort with a dish you’ve been wanting to make, it’s all worth it?
Well, this might not be that dish.
First of all, perhaps I should tell you what this dish is: a combination of light and flavourful crespelle (aka crêpes or pancakes) rolled with three types of cheese and whatever garden green you have going at the moment. Then the whole thing is baked together, which doesn’t seem like it should be as good as it is, but it is.
In fact, it’s great; I will not lie to you. So I also will not say it’s an easy weeknight dinner, especially if you’re not up to speed with your crêpe skills.But if you can master that, you can break these out any old time, and believe me, they are worth it.
Although the crespelle may seem daunting, they are fun to make – really! I think they are much more forgiving than regular crêpes, perhaps because they have a higher ratio of egg to flour. So once you master a few, it’s really quite satisfying to make one after the other and watch them stack up.
Here are a few more endorsements. These crespelle are very filling, much more than it seems like they should be. And, let me repeat a very salient point: they have three kinds of cheese in them – honestly, who wouldn’t like that? (Vegans, don’t weigh in on this one!) They have two vegetables in them, so they pretty much count as the main course AND the side dishes. If you make a salad as well, you’re way ahead in the health stakes. And as a big bonus in this household, five out of five people love them.
So I say DO make this on a weeknight; enlist some help and dinner can be on the table an hour after you start. If that seems like a long time to cook, think of it as social time, creative time, unwinding time. Have a glass of wine, a fun chat, a laugh as you mess up the first crespelle. Then sit down to your excellent meal and think how lovely it is to be able to make such good food and enjoy it, every day.
Serves 5 or 6 people (makes about 20 crespelle)
I don’t know where I found the original recipe, which I have written down as “Crespelle alla Fiorentina”, or Crêpes in the Florentine style. I do know that, over time, I have modified it so much that a quick search on Google shows me hundreds of options for Crespelle alla Fiorentina, none of which match what I’ve got. First of all, I’m using Swiss chard rather than the traditional spinach that the word “Florentine” denotes in food. (I’ve also used kale, which was fantastic, and I would be perfectly happy using dandelions, chopped broccoli rabe – or, yes, even spinach, because I’m not opposed to tradition!)
In fact, I have done so many variations on this recipe, including making it gluten-free and also dairy-free, and I can safely say that they are all quite good! I’ve noted the adaptations below.
- 150g flour (buckwheat flour for GF version)
- 4 eggs
- 400ml water
- 20g butter, melted (olive or sunflower oil for DF version)
- 1 onion, minced
- 450g swiss chard, stems separated
- 150g ricotta cheese or small curd cottage cheese *
- 150g mascarpone (or clotted cream or creme fraîche) *
- 150g parmesan or grana padano, grated (plus a little extra for topping if you like) *
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- salt & pepper
*For the dairy-free version, I substituted an equal amount of tofu for the three cheeses, and bumped up the flavour by first blending it with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and a clove of garlic, puréed.
To make the crespelle batter, whisk together the flour and eggs, then add in the water, melted butter (or oil) and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
Now make the filling. Sauté the onion in olive oil or butter with a pinch of salt over a medium-low heat, until it is soft, at which point take it off the heat and put it in a large bowl.
While the onions are cooking, prep the greens. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add a tablespoon of salt, and throw in the swiss chard stems. After a few minutes, add the swiss chard leaves. When the leaves start to wilt, drain all the greens in a colander, then spread them out to cool quickly. When they are cool enough to handle, take a small handful and squeeze all the moisture out of it and set it aside. Continue until all the chard is squeezed dry, then chop it all quite small. Put the chopped chard in the bowl with the cooked onions along with the three cheeses and the nutmeg. Stir well, taste, and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Set the bowl aside and make the crespelle.
It helps to have a non-stick crêpe pan, but a small frying pan will do. If it isn’t non-stick, you need to make sure you give it a quick swipe with an oiled paper towel between each crespelle. If it is non-stick, you can skip this step. In either case, heat the pan over medium heat, and when it is hot, give your batter a quick stir, then pour about 80 m (1/3 cup) into the pan, and swirl the pan around to get even coverage. This will look very thin, but it should be; if you haven’t made crêpes before, you may be tempted to add more batter, but don’t. Persevere. Also, be forewarned that the first crêpe is rarely a good one; think of it as the sacrifice to the pan gods!
You will know that your crespelle is ready to turn over when the edges start to curl upward and look a little crispy. At this point, I’m able to use my fingers to pick the crespelle up and turn it over, but you can also use a rubber spatula. Once it is flipped, you only need to cook it for another 30 seconds or so, then slide it onto a plate and start the next one.
Continue in this fashion until all the batter is used up. You should end up with 18-20 crespelle.
Here’s the gluten-free version:
Now fill the pancakes. Lay the crespelle on your work surface, and fill each one with 2-3TB of filling. I have done this two ways. The first way is traditional: make a small mound of filling and then fold the edges of the crespelle in and wrap it up, like a packet. The second way is more like a roulade: I smear the filling over the surface of the crespelle and then fold the edges in and roll it up, so that the filling and the crespelle make a spiral.
Put a little water or stock in the bottom of an oven-proof dish. Lay the crespelle in the dish in a single layer, sprinkle the top with some parmesan if you like, and dot with butter (or just drizzle with olive oil for the DF version). Cover loosely and bake at 170C (350F) until the filling is hot. (You may want to take the cover off in the last few minutes of baking to give some colour to the top.)
Sometimes I feel that all the best food doesn’t actually look that good. This is definitely the case with these crespelle: despite a ho-hum appearance, these are moist, filling, and very more-ish. I think I might have to make some more tonight.